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Airport names getting revised

Commission votes to rename Palmdale and Ontario facilities to reflect their proximity to Los Angeles.

January 02, 2007|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

Most people don't need an atlas to locate Los Angeles. But they may require a map to pinpoint Palmdale and Ontario.

With this in mind, Los Angeles' airport agency plans to link the city's world-famous moniker to airports that it operates in the Antelope Valley and Inland Empire.

Officials hope that providing the facilities with a well-known geographic hook will draw travelers from outside the state and help take pressure off aging Los Angeles International Airport.

"When talking to airlines, I always ask the question, 'Which would you prefer to serve, Ontario International Airport or LA/Ontario International Airport?' " said Paul Haney, deputy executive director of airports and security for the city's airport agency. "They never hesitate. They always say, 'LA/Ontario International Airport.' "

The city's Airport Commission recently voted unanimously to make the change in Ontario, which people outside California often confuse with Ontario, Canada. Commissioners also altered the name of another Los Angeles facility, located about 65 miles north of LAX in the Antelope Valley, to LA/Palmdale Regional Airport.

Officials hope that using Los Angeles' name also will help persuade carriers to add flights at the facilities. In Palmdale, the airport agency's terminal has languished for years, with only one airline offering scheduled commercial service there since 1998. Scenic Airlines, a sightseeing company with flights to Las Vegas, pulled out in February, saying it wasn't making any money.

The agency expects a much-discussed push to spread air traffic out among the region's airports to finally take off this year.

This month airlines will submit proposals to offer flights from Palmdale, where officials plan to use a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as discounted terminal rent, to subsidize flights. Los Angeles officials have referred to the airport as Palmdale Regional since it opened in June 1971.

"We are looking to position this facility to be a viable airport," said Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford Jr. "We're one of the few communities that I know of that wants an airport."

Los Angeles airport officials are also in negotiations to land major new air service at Ontario. For about three years, the airport agency has advertised the facility to Southern Californians as LA/Ontario International Airport, but it wanted to make the name official to more aggressively promote the airport nationwide. The facility has been known as Ontario International since the city of Los Angeles signed an agreement with Ontario officials to operate it in 1967. It is about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

But branding experts cautioned that officials will need to educate travelers about Ontario and Palmdale's exact locations to ensure that the name changes don't cause additional confusion -- or even anger.

"All three airports sharing L.A. in their name introduces the possibility that people will fly into the wrong airport," said Anthony Shore, creative director of naming and writing at Landor Associates. "Or they will be surprised when they land at one airport, thinking they're not far from downtown L.A., and then finding they have to drive a few hours in traffic to get to downtown L.A."

Airport officials said they planned to promote the two airports on travel websites to help travelers pinpoint their location in relation to other Southern California landmarks.

Even so, gridlock on freeways linking Ontario and Palmdale with Los Angeles could deter both airlines and travelers from using the facilities. For years, the Southern California Assn. of Governments has proposed mass transit, such as high-speed trains, between the transportation hubs to make the smaller airports more appealing.

The organization, which draws up a regional transportation plan every few years, has repeatedly projected that millions of passengers would use the facilities, even though airlines have said they won't add flights until there are stronger indications that there will be enough passengers to make them profitable.

A trend to adopt new names for regional airports is taking off across the United States. Hoping to capitalize on their proximity to well-known locations, some airports have revised their identifiers in the last decade by adding the name of a local landmark or a nearby city. In New York, for example, Buffalo's facility became Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Indiana's Hulman Field was transformed into Terre Haute International Airport.

In April, officials in Manchester, N.H., hoped to prompt travelers outside New England to choose their airport over Logan International in Boston by making it Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Officials say the change encouraged travelers to try the airport, adding that interest ran so high they began offering free shuttle service from the facility to downtown Boston, about 50 miles south. Before the switch, only 3% of 4,000 people outside New England surveyed by telephone had heard of Manchester, while 93% knew of Boston. Many thought Manchester referred to the city of the same name in Britain.

"It's done a lot for helping to position the airport on a map for people," said J. Brian O'Neill, assistant airport director. "Before, people wouldn't have even known we existed."

jennifer.oldham@latimes.com

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